Prenatal Reflective Functioning and Development of Aggression in Infancy: the Roles of Maternal Intrusiveness and Sensitivity

J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2017 Feb;45(2):237-248. doi: 10.1007/s10802-016-0177-1.


Maternal reflective functioning (RF) has been associated with quality of parent-child interactions and child development. This study investigated whether prenatal RF predicted the development of infant physical aggression and whether maternal sensitivity and/or intrusiveness mediated or moderated this association. The sample consisted of 96 first-time mothers (M = 22.57 years, SD = 2.13) and their infants (54 % male). Prenatal RF was measured with an interview, maternal behavior was observed during free play at 6 months post-partum, and infant physical aggression was assessed at 6, 12, and 20 months using maternal reports. Multivariate analyses of variance showed that relatively poor prenatal RF was related to relatively high infant physical aggression. These associations were moderated by maternal intrusiveness, with significant differences in physical aggression between RF-groups reportedly only in the absence of intrusiveness. Generally, mothers reported an increase in physical aggression between 6 and 12 months, except when they had both low RF-skills and were relatively less sensitive. It is concluded that prenatal RF is associated with (development of) infant physical aggression, and may be targeted in intervention programs aimed at reducing early physical aggression. Less adequate parenting, however, may counteract the beneficial effects of good RF, or obscure insight into children's behavioral development.

Keywords: Aggression; Infancy; Intrusiveness; Reflective functioning; Sensitivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / psychology*
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Young Adult